Thursday, February 4, 2016

RIP Stephen Jones, Adventurer & Pioneer of 200s

Steve finishing the 2015 Tahoe 200, Credit: Howie Stern
I knew Stephen from being an entrant and finisher in my 200 mile races. Through those races, I got to know him very well. Stephen was the type of person who would tell you his opinion straight up, no sugar coating, which I love because that's how I am too. He loved to make new friends and share his passion for the trails. Right away when I unveiled the first single loop 200, the Tahoe 200, Stephen came on my radar. He was excited about the race and he let me know through messages and social media comments. I was, at the time, a relatively unknown race director and organizing a race of this magnitude was unheard of. "Who was this girl who thought she could put on a 200 mile race? She hasn't even organized a 100!" Was a common sentiment from the ultra running community and naysayers. And to some degree they were right to question my abilities, I would have done the same.
Me greeting Stephen at the finish of the 2015 Bigfoot 200, photo: Adrienne Binh
Those sentiments were common at that time, but despite my lack of credentials, we had a full race that first year. The race went off without any major hitches and we received lots of positive accolades. Throughout the entire year, Stephen was a supporter of the race. After the race, I remember thanking Stephen for his support and for believing in the race, in me as a director. Without adventurous runners like him, my dream of a race that would be on trail and would circumnavigate the entirety of Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in the USA, would never have been able to come to fruition. After I thanked him, he said, "I did my research. I saw that you were a good ultra runner, than you had run 100 mile races, had won some and that you had done unsupported long routes in the mountains. I knew that you worked as a race director at the time. Yes, it took some faith but I had a good feeling about it." He told me that he would do any 200 that I organized because he loved the vision, and I sure hope he knew that he was a key part of that vision, and always will be.
Finishing the first Tahoe 200, 2014. Photo: Jerry Gamez
As many of you have heard, Stephen died in an avalanche Sunday, Jan. 31. His death was unexpected, shocking, and devastating to everyone who knew him. Not everyone can make a lasting impact on so many around them but Stephen sure did. I wanted to share some of the stories I have of him, they all involve running 200s, one of his passions. Please consider donating to the memorial fund for Stephen's wife and children. He has young two school age children and although your donation can't take away the immense grief the family is experiencing, it can help ease their transition during this painful time. Donate here

Here are some of my stories, I hope you enjoy them.

Tradition at 200s: Beer for the Race Director, Tahoe 200, 2014
The first year of the Tahoe 200 Mile Endurance Run Stephen had been one of the especially excited runners and a few weeks before the event he commented on our Facebook forum for the race that for good luck the runners should bring me (the race director) a 6-pack of local beer. On race check in day, the day before the runners were to line up to run 200 miles, Stephen came up to me with a 6 pack of beer from Utah. He said it was his good luck offering for the race and insisted that it would bring him, and any other runner that brought me beer, good luck in finishing the race.
It sure seemed to work for him, he finished all 3 of my 200s, the inaugural Tahoe 200 in 2014, the inaugural Bigfoot 200 in 2015 and the 2nd Tahoe 200 in 2015. For each race he made sure the runners knew that they should give me beer for good luck, and the day before the race he presented me with beer from Utah. He knew how much I loved craft beer and I think he knew the management would need it after the event to reduce stress levels. I sure loved getting that free beer and it became a tradition for runners to bring me a six pack pre race, an offering for the hard work I'd put into organizing and a good luck charm. 
New year, new rules. 2015
More Beer Stores - Beer solves hyponatremia - Bigfoot 200, 2015
I was on course during the 2015 Bigfoot 200 checking on the aid stations, it was day 3 of the 4 day race when I saw Stephen coming into an aid station. He was animated and excited to see me and he told me about how on day 2 of the Bigfoot 200 he had suffered with dangerously bad hyponatremia. He didn't know it at the time and he felt so awful that he planned to drop out of the race, something that for him was almost inconceivable so I knew it must have been bad! He came into an aid station where one of our medical workers was on duty from the Ultra Medical Team. As the story goes, he was told to have a beer to treat his symptoms. Lo and behold, that beer completely solved his electrolyte issues and he continued on to finish his second 200 mile race. He was so impressed by how quickly the beer worked that I heard him tell that story about 10 times after the race. Knowing him, he was still telling that story up until his death. He loved to help other runners out.
2015 inaugural Bigfoot 200, about to finish after 90+ hours. Photo: Howie Stern
Mocha time!
At the inaugural Bigfoot 200 I greeted all the runners at the finish line. As Stephen rounded the last turn of the track (runners finished 3/4 mile on a track) you could see a smile on his face, one that mixed all the emotions one feels during a 200 and the sweet relief of being home. We hugged at the finish and he immediately told me that the Bigfoot 200 was by far the most difficult of the 200s and about how glad he was that there was an espresso stand in Randle en route to finishing the race. He had brought cash or a card with him the entire race and that last mile was the only place where he was back in civilization and could actually use the money. He said that mocha got him that last 1 mile to the finish. He was right too, the Bigfoot course is so remote that you don't go by a single home or business until the last 10 miles of the race. 

Why He runs 200s
Lastly, I love this post that Stephen made about why he does 200s. He always planned to run Tahoe 200 every year, said that it was special to him. I believe your first race of a certain distance does hold that mystique: 
"For me, it [the Tahoe 200] wasn't about the suffering, or even the beauty of course, although the course was very beautiful. While it was rewarding to finish something so big, even that feeling of accomplishment was not what made the race so special. It was witnessing the triumphs of other runners.
Like the runner whose heels were raw from blisters at mile 40, who was used to finishing on the podium, refusing to give up and ultimately finishing near the last. Most people would have dropped a 100-miler if their heels looked like that at mile 40. 60 miles is a long way to suffer on raw heels. But ONE HUNDRED and 60 miles. I was in awe and humbled.
Or the runner at mile 153 who said to her pacer, "I'm done. I can't go on. I'm proud of what I've done. I'm proud of the 153 miles I've done, but I can't go on." Normally, I would have told any runner to suck it up, quit whining, and get out and finish it. But not this time. I could feel the emotion in her voice, I knew how she felt, because I was close to feeling the same way, so I left the aid station feeling so sad for her to have come so far. Seeing her come into the next aid station at mile 170 was one of the best moments I've had running.
Yes, you're a participant, but you're also a spectator, and you get to watch it unfold from a perspective that nobody else has."
Earning the finisher buckle, Bigfoot 200. Photo: Jerry Gamez
In moving forward
With the loss of one of Stephen, I've been thinking a lot about how to memorialize his impact on 200s, especially the Tahoe 200, which was near and dear to his heart. I've decided to rename the last aid station at mile 190.6 in his honor. Rideout Aid Station will now be called "Stephen Jones Aid Station". From here, runners will have just 9.4 miles to the finish, and I have a feeling that won't be any ordinary 9.4 miles. We are looking for volunteers for that station, so if you'd like to help, please email us at volunteer@tahoe200.com

Another 200 miler? 
Short answer, yes. Long answer: Stephen dreamed of having a 200 miler in Utah. He believed his state would be able to host the most scenic one of all and he contacted me with a course that he thought was doable. I am looking into the route and its plausibility. 200s are complicated for many reasons and permitting is a big one. For now I plan to research and run the route. I have done the impossible in organizing these races in the months, when it takes others years so I know I can do it. This project is on my front burner and I hope to get started on it this spring. As many of you know, the demand for 2's is still relatively low and the cost of organizing is sky high. We will find a way, we always do! Stay tuned for this one. 

 RIP my friend and fellow adventurer, you are missed


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